How should we think of antisemitism? In order to combat antisemitism, we need to understand antisemitic incidents as symptoms of structural oppression.
In 2021, the number of incidents linked to antisemitism increased dramatically throughout Europe. In Germany, antisemitism has been rising continuously since 2015. According to the German internal security service, antisemitic views that were once found amongst the politically radical are now becoming increasingly prevalent amongst people with moderate, centrist views. Antisemitic expressions present themselves in relation to various themes in society: COVID-19, the conflictbetween Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Russian war against Ukraine.
The Netherlands, too, shows a significant increase in antisemitic incidents. In 2021, the Israel Information and Documentation Center (CIDI) registered an increase of 36% compared to 2020. Throughout the whole of Europe, 50% of citizens recognise antisemitism as a problem occurring in their country. Antisemitic attitudes have become more widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is visible in conspiracy theories that frame Jews as responsible for the virus.
Understanding antisemitism as structural oppression
Antisemitic incidents range from ridicule and intimidation to verbal abuse and physical violence. They are not merely incidental; they are systemic. Antisemitic acts of hostility are directed at Jews simply because they are Jews. Jews are degraded, humiliated, and stigmatised on account of their identity as Jews. For this reason, antisemitism is a form of structural oppression: it is the result of social patterns and ideas about Jews as a social group. It is not the kind of oppression that is perpetrated by a malicious tyrant. There is no single person or institution responsible for the subjugation and terrorisation of Jews. Instead, antisemitism is embedded in unconscious assumptions and stereotypes about Jewish people.
Antisemitic cultural images tend to stereotype Jews as privileged, wealthy, and powerful. But at the same time, Jews are stereotyped as subordinate and inferior. This has contributed to the idea that Jews can never really be victims. But Jews are victims. They are victims of a system of oppression that is sustained by stereotyped and inferiorised images of Jews. As a result of these images, Jews regularly experience antisemitic acts of violence.
The majority of antisemitic incidents faced by Jews are cases of vandalism, defacement, and desecration of Jewish monuments. But Jews also experience acts of physical and verbal violence. Recently, a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin got out of hand. Participants started to cry antisemitic statements and pelt the police with rocks and fireworks. In The Hague, people taking part in an anti-Israel demonstration shouted similar antisemitic slogans and swearwords. A couple of months later, swastikas and antisemitic texts were graffitied on a sidewalk in the city. These are just a couple of examples of the antisemitism that is experienced by Jews.
In order to combat antisemitism, it is important to recognise that it is a form of structural oppression. We can only eliminate antisemitism if we understand the underlying structural causes. Antisemitic acts of violence are the result of cultural images that stereotype Jews as powerful yet inferior. To resist antisemitism, then, we need to change the underlying stereotypes that stigmatise Jews and put them in a position of disadvantage. Let us rethink the images that are embedded in our culture in order to withstand the injustices suffered by Jews.
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